The Lawnmower Man

The property line between our house and our northern neighbor is an 8 foot tall, 100 foot long arborvitae hedge. It is a thick nest of green flora that I often pay little attention to – that is until the day I came home from work and noticed that Leo, the retired gentleman who is our northern neighbor, had trimmed his side of hedge.

Though retired, Leo runs an active lawn mower repair business, and once Spring hits, his driveway is lined on each side with riding mowers he has repaired and refurbished, for sale to those looking to mow their lawn without having to stand up or move their legs. In fact, I often describe to those trying to find my house that we live right next to the “Lawnmower Man.” This description is often met with a knowing smile – “Ah yes, I know exactly where that is.”

It may not surprise you to know that trimming an enormous shrub was not the first thing on my weekend schedule – and so for the next two weeks our shrubs had a haphazard look to them – neatly trimmed on one side, monstrously overgrown on the other.

It only took a few more days before Erin, my wife, answered a knock on our door.

It was Leo, asking politely if we would like to borrow his hedge trimmer. A gentle question that stirred me into action.

The following Saturday I sheepishly trudged on over to Leo’s house to collect his generously offered hedge trimmer.

As I set up the ladder, connected the extension cord, and prepared to work, Erin said, “How long do you think it will take you to finish?”

My calculations went as follows:

65 year old neighbor trimmed said shrubs in what seemed like half a day, at most.

Young man, much stronger, less prone to physical exhaustion – “2 hours,” I answered confidently.

When Erin appeared 2 hours later, I had trimmed approximately 2 feet of the hedge, and it did not look like Leo’s side of the hedge.

My arms hung at my side, exhausted from holding a heavy hedge trimmer at just the right angle in order to trim the bush to what I thought was just the right length.

Then Leo, the Lawnmower Man, popped his head over the nearby fence. “Looks good, neighbor!” I wondered if he meant it or was secretly mocking me, when he quickly offered, “You know, you might want to trim it a little but shorter. They tend to grow back awfully fast.”

He offered a few more minor tips, simple points really, but points I had failed to realize on my own.

With his advice, I finished the hedge – but it took me two days and about 8 hours to finish it all – a bit off on my earlier prediction, but much more quickly than it would have been done had he not offered words of wisdom and encouragement.

As I finished trimming, I began to think of the many ways I tend to discount older voices, especially when the task at hand seems simple. I had assumed that if Leo could do it in a day, I could surely do it much more quickly, and probably a bit more nicely, too. But his side of the hedge looked remarkably nicer. His many years of experience trimming that hedge, working with tools, making mistakes and learning from them I had somehow discounted, and I was ashamed at how easily I assumed superiority in knowledge and practice.

Young people (I still consider myself young!) are often too quick to act like we know what we are doing. But when we are given the opportunity to try something new, to be pointed in the right direction and left to figure it out on our own, we see the importance of what those who have gone before have to offer, what we must count on them to offer.

Youthful zeal must be grounded in experienced wisdom.

I’ve often come back to that lesson in the past few months, remembering that with young people have often done amazing things, they have often done so with the guidance of an older, experienced voice giving direction, hope, and encouragement. I need more of that, and so do all of us young people.

This lesson provided by the Lawnmower Man. Thanks, Leo.


  1. June 16, 2011 at 7:11 PM

    With age, as I am discovering, comes 1. susceptibility to depression, 2. The knowledge of how unwise we have been and can be, 3. (in America) a belief that we are all washed up and no longer valued. The wisest persons I have known are the one who had been humbled by life and realized their limits before a complex world and analmighty, though loving, God. You probably don’t know what an awesome gift it is when someone perceives value in our words or actions.

  2. June 16, 2011 at 11:07 PM

    Great story and good words of wisdom. As I continue to age and can no longer claim youth in a chronological sense, I try to remember that zeal is not a youthful characteristic only. Passion is something we choose and it does not have to wane with the years. If I’m alive, I’m going to be alive with passion and zeal and doubtlessly failure along for the ride. But, as Wayne says, I will be humbled by the failures and will try very hard to hold onto the zeal. And yes, using power tools is an art.

    • June 18, 2011 at 9:14 AM

      Amen, brother. You and your family are a wonderful example of seeing the rich depth of all people, and working to draw people into a working knowledge of that depth – we are capable of so much more than we think – we often just need people to encourage us into that depth. Thanks for your zeal and commitment to ALL people.

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